Category Archives: Children’s books

Nasreen’s Secret School

 

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan, by Jeanette Winter, is a very moving picture book about the life of a young girl and her family after the Taliban takes over in Afghanistan. She and her family were living happily in one of the ancient cities of Afghanistan when that change happened.

The Taliban changed every part of life in this country and for this little girl. Girls were immediately banned from attending school, and life became very restricted for all women and girls.  “The art and music and learning are gone. Dark clouds hang over the city.”  And then one day her father was taken away, and after days and weeks of worrying about him, her mother left in search of him. Nasreen stayed at home with her grandmother, but didn’t speak after that.

Her grandmother, who narrates this story, was very worried about her. She wanted her to be able to go to school and learn the things that she and Nasreen’s mother had learned when they were young. She heard about a secret school for girls, and took Nasreen there. The girls had to be extremely careful to arrive at the school at different times so that they were not noticed by the soldiers. The neighborhood boys would distract the soldiers when they saw them getting too close to the green gate of the house where the school was held.

At first Nasreen was silent. She didn’t talk with the other girls or her teacher, and her grandmother continued to be very worried. But slowly, she began to make friends with another girl in the class, she began to enjoying her learning, and she began to talk again.

Although a story written for children, this book was eye-opening to me about what life was/is like for the girls and women of Afghanistan under the tyranny of the Taliban.  Jeanette Winter has written numerous picture books about children in other cultures and I’m reading as many of them as I can find.  You might be interested in reading her “Author’s Note” from the ending of this story of Nasreen.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book based on a true story from Afghanistan.

 

Waiting for the Biblioburro

Waiting for the Biblioburro, by Monica Brown, is based on a true story from Colombia about the children who live in remote areas and don’t have access to libraries or even school books.

In this picture book story, a young girl, Ana, longs to have books to read but she lives too far away from a library. But one day she hears the clip-clop of a burro approaching. She looks to see who is coming and sees a man leading a burro, and the burro is loaded down with bags of books!

This is a wonderful little book that can start many important conversations in a classroom, and is a sweet read for any of us who simply love books and libraries!

To learn more about Luis Soriano Bohórquez, the man who started the biblioburro, a real-life mobile library, click here.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book that takes place in Colombia.

A Dog of Flanders

A Dog of Flanders, by Ouida, is a classic and timeless story from Belgium and was a special book to read. The language is so beautiful, and the story so heartfelt and heart-wrenching. I had heard of this book before but never read it. I’m so glad I found it as I was looking for books to read for each country in the world.

When old Jehan Daas had reached his full eighty, his daughter had died in the Ardennes, hard by Stavelot, and had left him in legacy her two-year-old son. The old man could ill contrive to support himself, but he took up the additional burden uncomplainingly, and it soon became welcome and precious to him. Little Nello—which was but a pet diminutive for Nicolas—throve with him, and the old man and the little child lived in the poor little hut contentedly. It was a very humble little mud-hut indeed, but it was clean and white as a sea-shell, and stood in a small plot of garden-ground that yielded beans and herbs and pumpkins.

The story is of an very poor old man, Jehan Daas, and his grandson, Nello.  Into their lives comes a dog they find that had been cruelly treated and then abandoned along the roadside. They nurse the dog back to health, and the dog becomes their loyal companion and family member, each one of them needed in the effort to earn enough money to live. Although poor and often hungry, Nello is happy living with his grandfather and his dog, Patrasche.

Nello loves art and loves the great works of Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish painter who lived, worked and is buried in Antwerp. His influence is felt everywhere, and inspires Nello to teach himself art.

And the greatness of the mighty Master still rests upon Antwerp, and wherever we turn in its narrow streets his glory lies therein, so that all mean things are thereby transfigured; and as we pace slowly through the winding ways, and by the edge of the stagnant water, and through the noisome courts, his spirit abides with us, and the heroic beauty of his visions is about us, and the stones that once felt his footsteps and bore his shadow seem to arise and speak of him with living voices. For the city which is the tomb of Rubens still lives to us through him, and him alone.

Nello longs to see the two famous Ruben’s paintings in the Cathedral of Our Lady, in Antwerp, but they are kept behind a curtain and are only available to see if you can pay the fee.

As Nello grows older, and his grandfather grows more feeble, the boy and his dog work hard to make a living. Although life is a struggle, Nello teaches himself art and loves all of nature around him, so he is a happy person.  But life takes a cruel turn for this little family, and Nello and his devoted dog do the best they can to deal with it all.

I did love this little story. The dog is such a wonderful character, and the author lets us know what the dog is thinking and why he does some of the things he does. Nello is a gentle, sweet character, full of good cheer, talent, and hope… He is almost too good for this world.

A statue of Nello and Patrasche in Hoboken, Belgium.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a classic from Belgium.

Read Local

The Oregon Book Awards are “named to honor Oregon’s literary community.” There are eight categories of awards, each named after a prominent Oregonian, and with a new category for graphic literature. Click here to read about each category.

  • Stafford/Hall Award for Poetry
  • Ken Kesey Award for Fiction
  • Frances Fuller Victor Award for General Nonfiction
  • Sarah Winnemucca Award for Creative Nonfiction
  • Angus L. Bowmer Award for Drama
  • Graphic Literature Award
  • Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature
  • Leslie Bradshaw Award for Young Adult Literature

This month I read all the books (except one which is still on hold at my library) in the Eloise Jarvis McGraw Award for Children’s Literature category. I love reading books for children, so this little project was a very enjoyable one for me. There are five nominees for this award, and the winner will be announced on April 22, 2019.

The five books nominated for this award are:

As I read each one, I could easily understand why each was nominated. They are all award-winners in my estimation — such a nice selection of books! I recommend all five of these books to anyone who loves children’s literature!

Although I liked each one, there was one that completely won my heart. A Boy, a Mouse, and a Spider: The Story of E.B. White, by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Lauren Castillo, is a very special book that introduces children to the life of the author of Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little. It is beautifully written with lovely illustrations, and for all of us who dearly love Charlotte’s Web, it shows that the ideas for that special book came right out of E.B. White’s own childhood experiences.

The Book of Dragons

The Book of Dragons, by Edith Nesbit, is a series of nine dragon stories. Each dragon is a different color or made of different stuff, and each one causes different problems. These stories for children are fun. I didn’t enjoy this book as much as some of her others — I loved The Psammead Trilogy and The Railway Children. But if you enjoy dragon stories, or know a young one who does, I definitely recommend books by Edith Nesbit. She’s terrific.

From the Back Cover:

Dragons — of all sorts — make for marvelous fun, and this collection of madcap tales is filled with them. Some of the legendary monsters are funny and mischievous, others are downright frightening, and a number of them are wild and unpredictable. There’s a dragon made of ice, another that takes refuge in the General Post Office, a scaly creature that carries off the largest elephant in a zoo, and even a dragon whose gentle purring comforts a tiny tot. And who challenges these amazing creatures? Why, daring heroes, of course, as well as a wicked prince, and even an entire soccer team — which, unfortunately, meets its fate with a fire-breathing brute that flies out of the pages of an enchanted book.

H.R. Millar, E. Nesbit’s The Book of Dragons, North-South Books, 1900

Bartholomew and the Oobleck

Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, was published in 1949, so I grew up listening to this book and his other Bartholomew book, The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins. Both books were, and still are, so much fun!  When I was researching books written in my birth year, I was happy to find the Oobleck book on the list!  As a kid, as a Mom, and now as a Grandma, I have always adored Dr. Seuss!  And even though this book is seventy years old, it still provides timeless fun and humor.

Bartholomew is just a regular kid in the Kingdom of Didd, where King Derwin is not the smartest king on record. It was wintertime, and King Derwin was very tired and bored with the weather.

And that winter when the snow came down, he started shouting! “This snow! This fog! This sunshine! This rain! Bahh! These four things that come down from my sky!”

“But King Derwin,” Bartholomew tried to calm him. “You’ve always had these same four things come down.”

“That’s just the trouble!” bellowed the King. “Every year the same four things! I’m mighty tired of those old things! I want something NEW to come down!”

Call the royal magicians!

If you’ve already heard the story of The Five Hundred Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, you know that the royal magicians are a bit bumbling. They can start magic, but can’t seem to finish it very well. They don’t have a lot of control over what happens with their spells! So, when they put together a spell to add something new to the weather, OOBLECK is what they got. And we all know that oobleck is very green and sticky stuff.

Thank goodness for level-headed, clear-thinking Bartholomew!

If you or your children or grandchildren want to make some Oobleck, here’s a link to the recipe for the green goop! Enjoy!

 

I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.

 

 

Heroes

On a trip to the library recently, I picked up two little books that I ended up just loving. Author Brad Meltzer, who is well-known for his thrillers and mysteries, has written a book for his daughter and another one for his sons about inspirational people….our “heroes.”  And he also has written a series of graphic novels about heroes. The series is called Ordinary People Change the World, and I’ve read a number of those and liked them very much, too. I definitely would have bought all of these books for my class library if I was still teaching.

In both Heroes for My Daughter and Heroes for My Son, there is a one word description of the character of each person he writes about. For his chapter on Dorothea Lange, the word is “Eyewitness.” For Wilma Rudolph, it is “Uncatchable.” And for Thurgood Marshall, it is “Trailblazer.” The last three stories are about his daughter’s Great-Grandmother (“Irrepressible”), and her Grandma (“Designer”), and her Mother (“Fighter”).  He tells the story of each person so his daughter can understand what was/is special and heroic about the person, and he also includes direct quotes so that she can hear from each person directly.

The graphic novels are little biographies of different heroes, and are nicely written and nicely illustrated.

These are lovely, hopeful, inspiring books, and are certainly not just for children. They were inspiring to me, a nice antidote to the ugliness we see so much of these days.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is a delightful children’s book written by Booker Prize winning author, Salman Rushdie.

from the publisher:

Set in an exotic Eastern landscape peopled by magicians and fantastic talking animals, Salman Rushdie’s classic children’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories inhabits the same imaginative space as The Lord of the Rings, The Alchemist, and The Wizard of Oz. In this captivating work of fantasy from the author of Midnight’s Childrenand The Enchantress of Florence, Haroun sets out on an adventure to restore the poisoned source of the sea of stories. On the way, he encounters many foes, all intent on draining the sea of all its storytelling powers.

Haroun’s father, Rashid, was a master storyteller and his stories were much in demand by everyone, but especially by politicians. One day, however, his wife left him for a man with no imagination at all, and Haroun, angry and upset about his mother leaving them, shouted to his father, “What’s the use of stories that aren’t even true?” From that moment on, Rashid’s stories disappeared.

Haroun wanted to get those words back, to pull them out of his father’s ears and shove them back into his own mouth; but of course he couldn’t do that. And that was why he blamed himself when, soon afterwards and in the most embarrassing circumstances imaginable, an Unthinkable Thing happened.

And from that moment on…Haroun seeks a way to find out what happened to those stories, and how to get them back from the Sea of Stories. Adventure after adventure follows.

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like aliquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.

This book is a delight to read! The word play and the language of it all are brilliant and fun. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a story more and laughed out loud at so many puns and clever ways of describing things. I hope my son will read it aloud to our grandboy because I know they’d both love it.

Salman Rushdie dedicated this book to one of his sons after being apart for a long period of time. He also wrote Luka and the Fire of Life, and dedicated that book to his other son. I can’t wait to read that one next!

 

I chose to read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

The Big Snow

The Big Snow, by Berta and Elmer Hader, won the Caldecott Medal in 1949. It’s a lovely book for children about the animals in the forest getting ready for a long winter. The illustrations are wonderful, and it shows how each of the animals prepares for “the big snow.”  Some animals pack away food, some hibernate, some migrate south, and some simply stay for the winter. In this story, however, the winter was a particularly hard one for the animals that stayed put, so the kindly couple that lived in the stone house (most definitely Berta and Elmer Hader!), helped the animals by spreading seed and corn, hay and bread each day during the snowiest time. It was a book that definitely deserved the Caldecott Medal!



I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old. This book won the Caldecott Medal in 1949, my birth year.

An Old Book

While looking through the books on my grandson’s bookshelf, I found an old family treasure–a book that brought back memories from a Christmas long ago. I remember the Christmas I was five years old…I got a nurse costume (which I wore until it didn’t fit any more), and a baby doll (still in a box downstairs). My younger brother, a toddler, burned his finger on a Christmas light (they got hot in those days), and my oldest brother got a chemistry set. I remember him reading some big words and sounding very grown up. Along with the chemistry set, he got a book to go along with it. That’s the book I found on my grandson’s bookshelf. (I think it came to me instead of my oldest brother because our son was the first grandchild in the family.) It brought back tons of memories to look through it. And yes, the grandson has tried some of the experiments in it. They are timeless even though the world has changed drastically since it was published.